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Province, DFO say no reduction in resources, just have not been publicizing salmon poaching investigations

Salmon fishers are seen the Humber River in Steady Brook in this photo from July 2017.
Salmon fishers are seen the Humber River in Steady Brook in this photo from July 2017. - Star file photo

There hasn’t been any official word about salmon poaching violations this summer, but the people behind the enforcement of angling regulations say there should be more news on that front soon.

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Both the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the federal agency responsible for enforcing inland fishing laws, and the provincial government, which does its own inland fish enforcement, say there has not been any reduction in the amount of resources allocated for salmon angling enforcement this season.

In fact, the province says it has more resources allocated to inland fish and wildlife enforcement this year.

Under the former provincial Tory administrations, the province expressed frustration with DFO’s efforts to enforce fishing regulations in Newfoundland and Labrador. In 2004, out of frustration with DFO’s guardianship, the PC government led by former premier Danny Williams stepped up its enforcement activities by establishing a team of provincial officers to patrol inland waters and investigate illegal fishing activity.

After that, the province regularly issued press releases about the effectiveness of its ongoing efforts, including investigations and charges. On occasion, DFO would issue its own press releases about poaching busts it had also carried out.

The public attention about the most recent poaching investigations seems to have died down and the new Liberal government being in power may have something to do with that.

Despite being at odds at times, both the province and DFO have continued to work together on salmon angling enforcement. That continues to be the case, but Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne said the province now lets the federal agency take the lead on announcing any enforcement-related public advisories as it is technically a federal jurisdiction to conduct investigations and file charges for fishing violations.

Byrne acknowledged this is a different approach than how former provincial administrations dealt with getting the word out about poaching investigations.

“There is value to that from the point of view of informing the public there are enforcement officers in the field, but it does create somewhat of a circumspect view of innocence until proven guilty,” said Byrne. “If DFO amends its policy and determines issuing press releases about charges is an appropriate method of enforcement policy, we will reconsider (doing the same).”

The federal department confirmed, although it has not issued any press releases about investigations that have taken place so far in 2018, it is investigating a number of incidents this year. The department, which did not provide anyone for an interview when requested, said it will be willing to discuss a post-season review of enforcement activities this fall.

In an emailed response, DFO said its enforcement presence continues to consist of more than 200 fishery officers, fishery guardians and Indigenous fishery guardians across the province. These people, continued the email, conduct monitoring and enforcement activities such as patrols, surveillance operations and investigations, as well as education and awareness initiatives as part of the department's mandate to conserve and protect inland salmon and trout stock.

DFO does publish information about convictions information online, although those usually pertain to investigations that took place prior to the current season.

While efforts are being made to better integrate what both levels of government are doing with regard to salmon, Byrne said the province still believes there is more DFO could be doing to enhance the management of Atlantic salmon populations.

The minister said the amount of money DFO allocates to Atlantic salmon management in Newfoundland and Labrador, compared to the Maritimes and Quebec, does not correspond with how important the province’s river systems are to the overall population.

Further, Byrne noted, the bulk of inland fish enforcement is done by provincial officers, despite it really being a federal jurisdiction. Having these officer patrolling and investigating fishing activity on salmon rivers takes resources away from the other wildlife issues in the province, said Byrne.

“We have engaged in discussions with the federal government seeking and expecting an increase in supports and additional resources to do an even better job,” he said.

- For information about fishing convictions: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/media/charges-inculpations/nl-tnl-eng.htm

- The public is encouraged to report poaching activity to Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or to a local DFO Conservation and Protection detachment.

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